Greece has said Turkey risked opening up "a huge emotional chasm" with Christian countries if it pressed ahead with a proposal to convert the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque.
A Turkish court heard a petition today seeking to convert the massive sixth century building, originally built as a Christian cathedral and today one of Turkey's most visited tourist sites, back into a mosque.
The court will announce its verdict within 15 days, a lawyer said.
"Hagia Sophia is a world heritage monument... Many countries, culminating in the intervention of the US State Department, highlighted this very point, urging Turkey not to take steps which would create a huge emotional chasm between the Christians of the world and Turkey," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told a news briefing.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday urged Turkey to let Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to remain a museum and to ensure it remains accessible to all.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul,said converting it to a mosque would disappoint Christians and would "fracture" East and West.
We urge the Government of Turkey to continue to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect Turkey's diverse faith traditions and history, and to ensure it remains accessible to all.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) July 1, 2020
Completed in 537 in what was then Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, Hagia Sophia was the biggest cathedral in Christendom for 900 years before becoming a mosque after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
It was converted into a museum in 1934 under the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, but the case before the court challenges the legality of this step.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a Muslim, has lent his support to turning Hagia Sophia, called Ayasofya in Turkish, back into a mosque.